Government papers about the former home secretary Leon Brittan are among a fresh batch of documents which have come to light months after the conclusion of an official review into whether allegations of child abuse were covered up by the Home Office in the 1980s.
The documents also reveal that the then director general of MI5 corresponded with the Cabinet Secretary in 1986 about an unnamed MP who was alleged to have “a penchant for small boys” but accepted the politican’s word that he did not.
The letter from Sir Anthony Duff to Sir Robert Armstrong added: “At the present stage … the risks of political embarrassment to the government is rather greater than the security danger.”
Making it clear that they are “concerned and disappointed” about not being told earlier about the documents, the authors of a report earlier this year into allegations historical child abuse by powerful figures cited the letter as a “striking example” of how crimes against children were not considered as seriously as they would today.
“The risk to children is not considered at all,” Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, and barrister Richard Whittam, said in a supplement to their review, published online on Wednesday.
The Home Office said a fresh search of the archives had been carried out after a file emerged earlier this year that should have been submitted to Wanless and Whittam.
Previously unreleased files also concern figures including Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary, the late Sir Peter Morrison, former diplomat Sir Peter Hayman and former minister Sir William van Straubenzee.
The papers pertaining to Brittan, which are among a number shown to police, are contained in a store of Cabinet Office papers at the National Archives, known as “the cabinet secretary’s miscellaneous papers” and will be passed to an ongoing independent inquiry into child abuse within state and non-state institutions led by Justice Lowell Goddard. The papers are described by the Cabinet Office as largely uncatalogued and unregistered, and were accumulated over several decades up to 2007. No further details have so far been revealed.
Wanless and Whittam called for a broader search of material at government departments after the Cabinet Office and Home Office informed them that further relevant material had been found.
The papers also contain material on allegations by a former British army intelligence agent, Colin Wallace, about the Kincora boys’ home in Northern Ireland, which has long been at the centre of abuse claims.
The Wanless review, published in November after the investigation of 114 missing Home Office files, could not rule out the possibility of files being destroyed as part of a coverup of child abuse allegations in the 1980s. But the inquiry concluded that record-keeping practices at the time meant it was not possible to reach a categorical decision either way.
In a joint letter written in June, Wanless and Whittam said the discovery illustrated the merit of a wide-ranging search “unconstrained by what the Home Office in particular might or might not have known, with departments paying particular attention to relevant material that is not registered. We anticipate that the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse chaired by Justice Goddard would expect no less”.
They revealed that the Cabinet Office permanent secretary, Richard Heaton, wrote to Wanless in May apologising for a “flaw in the way the Cabinet Office initially responded” to their request for documents, and confirming that three categories of papers have since been identified as potentially relevant.
“We are concerned and disappointed that the Cabinet Office was aware of the separate Cabinet Office store of assorted and unstructured papers, yet informed us that the searches covered all records and files held,” the note said.
The recently unearthed material does not suggest that documents relating to Sir Peter Hayman, a senior diplomat linked to a paedophile scandal, had been destroyed, the co-authors said. However, they added: “That said, it is essential that the public have confidence in the searches that were undertaken, not least because we had to rely on the efficiency and integrity of those who sought material on our behalf. The emergence of these papers only after our review had completed is not helpful in that regard.”
It has also emerged that the Home Office failed to review unregistered government documents held at the National Archives for the Wanless review. They were only searched later following a request from MP John Hemming and a national newspaper.
“Whilst it is important that these files have been identified, as they tell outside our terms of reference, it is not for us to examine them now. Their discovery reflects the known restricted nature of our review,” the co-authors said, adding that “a broader search of material” should now be undertaken.
In a written ministerial statement, May said: “The supplementary report concludes that the discovery of these papers shows the need for all departments to be able to search material both on and off record managements systems. This is particularly important given that the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse will be asking for departments to produce relevant documents in the near future.
“I have been clear that it is vital that the whole of government fully cooperates with the inquiry on its important work and ensures that departments have the systems and processes in place in order to do so.”
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